More phonemakers allowing jailbreaks

Mobile vendors increasingly relenting and permitting users to unlock mobile devices, but only on selected bootloaders and those offered by industry developers in bid to maintain device security.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

More phone manufacturers, and even more platform makers, are detouring from their previous stance and stepping out to announce they will allow users to unlock bootloaders on their devices.

In an e-mail to ZDNet Asia, a Singapore-based Motorola spokesperson confirmed that the company has plans to include the unlockable/relockable bootloader currently found in the Motorola Xoom and its future software releases starting late-2011. But this will be rolled out only on devices allowed by its channel and operator partners, he said.

In May, Taiwanese phonemaker HTC's CEO, Peter Chou, announced on the company's Facebook page that it will "no longer be locking the bootloaders on [HTC] devices" due to overwhelming customer feedback for access to open bootloaders on HTC phones.

Phonemaker Sony Ericsson even has a dedicated Web page for users keen to unlock the bootloader for certain releases of Sony Ericsson Android phone models launched from 2011 and onward.

In an e-mail response to ZDNet Asia, a Sony Ericsson spokesperson said: "We are happy to accommodate requests from the Android community to offer advanced developers a technical solution for the unlocking of bootloaders for certain kits in a secure and legal way".

Unlocking recommended only for developers
However, Sony Ericsson "strongly recommends" that only developers or advanced users who have a good knowledge of the technology and risks involved to unlock bootloaders in its devices, the spokesperson said.

Explained why the bootloader unlocker is only limited to some models of its phones, he said the company tests and monitors all released software versions "for a long time" to create functional user experiences and to maintain the quality and safety of its phones. If the bootloader of the device is unlocked and replaced with a custom ROM, the device might become faulty as it had not gone through tests that Sony Ericsson run on its phones and software releases, he said.

In certain cases, the performance of the device might not be ideal and users run the risk of damaging their phones permanently, the spokesperson noted.

He added that Sony Ericsson is bound by legal agreements with many of its partners, such as operator customers and developers, which require their apps and games to be protected from being ripped from a secured area within the phones.

Motorola also pointed to channel and operator agreements as a limitation that has to be considered in the phonemaker's plans to release bootloader unlockers for its devices. "We understand the operator's requirement for [ensuring] security to the end-user, and will look to strike a balance with the need to support developer communities in using these products as a development platform," explained the company spokesperson.

Mobile OS makers welcome homebrews
Gaining the go-ahead to unlock bootloaders is not limited to phonemakers as mobile operating system (OS) makers are also warming to the idea. Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, for instance, announced plans to facilitate homebrew development efforts on their respective Windows Phone and WebOS platforms.

In an e-mail to ZDNet Asia, Roland Ng, HP's Asia-Pacific and Japan director of WebOS category and telco management, said: "We love the energy and enthusiasm we see from the homebrew community, and as you see from the Web promotional aspects of our program, we're excited to involve them in our efforts."

According to Ng, HP provides carrier-locked devices based on market and regional requirements. However, he said WebOS also offers the ability for developers to access the underlying OS separate from any carrier-lock. "This enables developers to better develop and debug their applications, while encouraging innovation on the platform," he explained. "HP believes such open access is an important part of any successful platform."

Software giant Microsoft, which earlier pulled down a Windows Phone 7 jailbreaking tool, also has relented. Creators of the ChevronWP7 jailbreaking tool announced last month that it is currently working on a Microsoft-sanctioned Windows Phone unlocking service which will be available to "developers across all skill levels and all regions".

In an e-mail statement to ZDNet Asia, Cliff Simpkins, senior product manager for Microsoft's Windows Phone Developer Experience, confirmed the company had collaborated with the ChevronWP7 team "for several months to make it easier for the homebrew community to explore the Windows Phone platform".

"We have been pursuing solutions that enable the community to develop and install apps on their own Windows Phone for testing and tinkering purposes, without jeopardizing the intellectual property of existing registered developers or the Marketplace in general," Simpkins said. "By working with the Chevron WP7 team, we hope to ensure their new tool will continue to advance our shared goals for both homebrew and registered Windows Phone developers."

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